First bear sightings bring awareness tips


SUBLETTE COUNTY – Yellowstone officials just spotted their first grizzly bears of 2021. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has received reports of tracks and scat in the greater Bridger-Teton area.

It’s clear – the bears are out. And right on schedule.

Mark Gocke, who works out of the Game and Fish office in Jackson, said male bears typically come out of hibernation and look for food starting in mid-March. Often times that’s come in Yellowstone, Cody, Meeteetse and that country. He’s even noticed some activity with collared bears starting to move about. In a few weeks the mothers should come out. The cubs typically leave the den in April and even into early May.

But, because western Wyoming typically stays in a winter-like atmosphere for stretches into May, the time of year can creep up on locals. That could bring danger with bears already looking for food. Those bears are also not staying confined to a certain area.

“Grizzlies have been expanding, really, for the past couple of decades,” Gocke said. “Just seems like over the span of my career, which is a couple of decades. When I first got to Jackson it was a rare thing to see a grizzly. Now it’s more common.”

Gocke said they’d always been more common around the parks. Then they moved south into the Gros Ventre area. Then into the Upper Green River Valley. Now, Gocke’s received reports of grizzly activity further into the Wind River Range and even into the New Fork Lake area. He’s also heard sightings in the Wyoming Range.

“It’s been a steady progression to the south. The problem is that then you can run into conflicts of various kinds,” Gocke said. “So we try to manage that as best we can. We try and educate people.”

He recommended keeping bear spray, FDA approved and self-tested, at the ready. Look for tracks, diggings of downed logs from bears looking for grubs or insects. Also look to the sky for scavengers like ravens or magpies, which could be circling something dead – something that would also attract a bear.

Because the western Wyoming winter can bring cabin fever, Gocke understood people’s need to get out. Those little safety tips could help along the way. Not just for skiers or those snow shoeing in the backcountry. He said he’s already gotten calls in the Jackson and Pinedale offices about antler season – which will open 6 a.m. on May 1. Those hunting for antlers on public lands should also keep in mind the increased bear activity further south.

He reminded those camping and living in the area to seal garbage, clean and/or put away barbecue grills or anything that has an attractive odor.

For the most part, Gocke credited those in the area for being bear aware. It’s just that sometimes the bears wake up before the public realizes.

“People generally do a good job of being bear aware when they’re out and about,” he said. “People understand we’re in bear country whether it’s black or grizzlies. You can have conflicts with both. Just, sometimes this year creeps up on you and it’s time to start thinking about it.”

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